Spiritual Direction and Reading: July 2003 Archives

Learning Humility through Blogging

One of the very best things I have gained through blogging is a better appreciate of the virtue of humility.

Let's face it--most of us have blogs because we think we have something to say that will be of interest to others. When I started, I thought that I was, perhaps, above average on both the writing curve and on the level-of-interest curve. Well, blogging has cut me down to size. There are a great many better writers--or perhaps writers who take more time with the material they place of the blogs--, a great many better thinkers, and a great many better Catholics than me. I learn from them all and am grateful. I am also grateful for the perspective.

I make my living in a writing-related field. I have always written--so much so that I have lit(t)erally reams of paper tied up in journals, drafts, sketches, and abortive attempts at various forms of writing. I had never disciplined myself to consider lengthy nonfiction writing. And as the results here show, I still have not disciplined myself to good lengthy nonfiction writing.

I am grateful to others who have shown me both different methods of reasoning and better ways to convey what needs to be said. But each day is an exercise in humility as I consider that a great many in the blog world are earning their livings in the field I would rather be in, but never figured out how to break into. Frankly, I can't do Catholic Journalism--I don't have the interest in the passing things of this world to devote energy to describing, exploiting, or announcing them. I could, with some additional work, do Catholic Cultural news--books, music, art. Things that matter in longer terms than the current events. And with some additional work I could do poetry (talk about your lucrative fields!) and fiction.

All of this I have learned from blogging. I have also learned that just about everyone I read could conceivably do the same. One is led to the overwhelming question--"oh do not ask what is it"--what really do I offer the writing community.

And for any of you who are asking the same question the answer is the same--a unique voice, a unique viewpoint. There is no other me (for which many breathe a great sigh of relief) and thus no one who sees as I see or who has been blessed in the way I have been blessed. I cannot tell you about the spiritual experiences of others except as they have been documented, but I can tell you about how I meet God and He meets me. I can tell you about what the view looks like from my perch.

So, if blogging gets you down ocassionally and you wonder what's the point--there are so many better, more talented, more polished, more intelligent, more (whatever) voices out there saying things that people really need to hear, remember that your voice is yours uniquely. Your trials are yours uniquely, and how you meet them, handle them, and share them is something no one else can really tell us about. We grow through this sharing.

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Seeking the Truth


Seeking the Truth

Sometimes (or at least this morning) I wonder if there is any acitivity more rewarding, more invigorating, or more likely to assist in fostering a love of God than seeking the truth. I also wonder if there is any activity as potentially aggravating, blood-pressure raising, or alienating.

To seek the truth means striking a fine balance between being completely empty-headed and allowing every new thought to wash away an old one, and being a rigid defender of interior orthodoxies that may or may not bear any resemblance to the truth.

What is fascinating about seeking the truth is the enormous number of ways in which it can be done. One can study, relying upon the guidance of the Holy Spirit and previous Saints, and think one's way through a give question. One can pray, and largely ignore the presence of questions, waiting for God's will, his own Good Time, and a faithful Dominican or Jesuit (some would say that is an oxymoron) to advance the answer to a question you never knew existed. One can search the scripture with an open heart and look for the only Truth that matters. One can converse and commune with like or unlike-minded individuals and tease out points of agreement or disagreement. It is the points of disagreement that are more likely to be fruitful, as everyone might be mistaken in agreement. There's the potential in a disagreement that (1) either someone is correct or (2) using an Hegelian dialectic one might approach the truth more closely.

To my mind, no matter how it is pursued, there is little on Earth more rewarding that seeking the truth. If we do so, we will find it, or rather, for the faithful Christian, Him, and He will set us free from the burden of being correct, free from the burden of knowing better than anyone else, free from the burden of needing to be somehow superior. In short, He will give us His peace and understanding, which are sufficient and superabundant.

But receiving this gift does not mean that we should abandon the pursuit, for once we know Him, we seek to explore more fully the truth in all of its possible ramifications and meanings. Some are given the scholar's path, having minds hones to the winnowing of wheat and chaff when it comes to information. Others walk the path of prayer--not eschewing the richness of scholarship (just as scholar's do not neglect prayer) but prefering instead the gaze of love that so informs. Still others may walk any of a myriad of paths that the Lord has laid out for them. Each person tracing his own path shows all others the multiplicity of paths available to all. They become beacons and an invitation from the Lord to all the Earth. Each of the Saints walked in the way of truth and showed us how to do so. So now, our legacy, what we owe to the rest of humankind for all generations, is to follow those who came before us in walking the path Christ has laid out for us. We preach far better by what we are and what we do than by what we say.

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My heart is so full of gratitude and a strong sense of the presence of God. The generosity of people discussing seemingly mundane and minor issues at Disputations has been so profound and moving. Each person actively seeking the truth, actively offering others the fruits of prayer and reflection--this is the very best of blogdom. The richness of charity has been monumental, and I have been blessed over and over again with insights, revelations, and clarity. Thanks to all who are so magnimous and kind in their sharing.

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Sin and Freedom


Sin and Freedom

We stand at a greater or lesser approach to a vast anoxic mudflat, the stench of which is an assault on Heaven itself. Some stand at the very edge of this flat, constantly deciding not to step onto it. Others have already taken the first steps and are discovering the difficulty of a mud flat--once you step out into, the mud itself works to keep you there. Still others, through habitual sin have waded far out into the mudflat and discovered the unstable thixotropic center. (A brief digression--a thixotropic fluid is thick like a solid but flows when a lateral pressure is applied. These solids also have the property of liquefying when a sudden shock such as an earth tremor is applied. The most famous natural example is quicksand, but quickmud while less common is even more dead.)

Once we are entangled in that center, through habitual sin, we find ourselves gradually drawn down until we struggle to move even a little from the pattern. We find that the habit takes over and the motion of the will is at best feeble and weak--deprived of any intensity of purpose. We don't really want to leave the center of sin. It has grown comfortable and familiar.

Sin is paralyzing. This is one of the reasons, I suppose, that so much mention is made of Jesus healing those lame and paralyzed. Sometimes the physical paralysis was seen as punishment for personal or inherited sin. But the paralysis is also a metaphor for what sin does to us in a spiritual way. When Jesus heals a paralytic the injunction is to "go and sin no more." The paralysis has been lifted--it is possible to choose once again.

Many of us need this radical power of Jesus in our lives. Many of us are paralyzed by our sins. Worse, many do not even see that they sin, habitually, frequently, and in defiance of clear injunctions that tell us what we are doing is wrong. We are paralyzed and blind.

The amazing thing is that one simple turning to Jesus, one motion, one indication that we have come to realize our plight, and we can be healed. Admittedly, it is difficult, sin has so dulled our senses and so balked our motion that any turning, any recognition is a trial--but it is a trial that can be endured. More--looking at the face of Jesus, adoring Christ in the Eucharist, being present to Christ in the Scripture, taking one moment to serve Christ in the persons of our oppressed brothers and sisters, can burst all bonds asunder, can drive away all darkness, and can clear the way to making a good confession and being transformed from a paralytic to a functional member of the Kingdom of Heaven.

If you cannot pray, know that the Holy Spirit prays within you, and choose to act in a way that recognizes that God is sovereign and present. Then prayer can start. Look at Jesus, reach out to Him and say, "Lord, if thou willest, I shall be healed." And then be prepared to accept the healing and the joyful mission that comes with it. The Kingdom of Heaven is ever active--never passive. It strides forcefully, joyfully, powerfully out in to the world of men and transforms that world forever. It leaves in its wake powerful eddies and currents that draw many invisibly closer to God. They may not be aware of His presence, but they are subtly transformed and prepared to accept His existence and His glory as a reality. When we are freed from sin and declare that triumph to the world, the world responds joyfully. We may fall back--it is always possible, but we gradually learn through practice how to avoid those places that lead most directly into the center of sin. In each of us one of the seven capital sins tends to predominate, and provides the most direct path to the center of the mire. When Jesus frees us, we proclaim freedom to the world, we transcend the powers of this world and draw some part of it with us into redemption. This is part of what St. Paul meant when he talked of the fallen world groaning for release--when Jesus frees us, He frees us with the purpose of freeing all. We are to proclaim release to the captives with full knowledge that we once were one of them, and we know the shape and the smell of captivity. We also know that it is not our destiny, nor the destiny of any of God's people.

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Two Parables of Grace from Sanibel

My trip to Sanibel brought some much needed relaxation and peace (much to my surprise). It also gave rise to some magnificent parables of human reaction to God's grace. So I offer a couple of them here.


To what shall we liken man's reaction to divine grace. We are like the coquina, snugly secure beneath the dome of a beautiful orange-and-white cockle. A beachcomber removes the cockle exposing us to sunlight and we, with all our strength and speed burrow under the sand.

Or we are like the coquina in the shorebreak. The waves come and wash away the sand and we are exposed momentarily in the light. Realizing our danger, we burrow back into the sand. Only because we are so small, we cannot burrow far because we could not live, so the next wave exposes us once again. We exhaust ourselves in escaping from the light.


We are like the white crabs caught in the back tidal channel. We scurry about contentedly until one searching for shells walks through the channel. Then we raise our claws and wave them threateningly and back away or scurry away to the side.


We are like the great blue heron on the beach, waiting patiently for the fisherman to catch a fish and throw it to us. However, should that fisherman turn and approach us too closely, we back away. If he continues, we fly away entirely.

Thus, it seems to me, too often our approach to grace. We have a momentary experience of it and realize that the call may be too challenging, too "dangerous" to our integrity of the moment, so we flee it. Not in every case, and not entirely. We are probably more like the heron than the other examples, but we are wary of the fisherman who would offer us a meal for who knows what he might do if he were to turn his attention upon us--who know what he might ask of us?

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Looking over the things I have written in the past couple of weeks, I realize that I might legitmately be accused of the grave character flaw of presumption. That is, who am I to be doling out advice or recommending a course of action. I know these things less well than many of my co-bloggers. And yet, even if I am not perfect (or even very good) in practicing most of what I recommend, I'm certain the advice is good, because it is not my own.

So when reading my posts, often addressed to "you" please recall that I am within that collective "you" and part of the purpose of writing is to continually reinforce what I know to be true and what I have experienced to be effective (when I was actually doing it). And please forgive me any presumption you may see here. It isn't intentional--it is an artifact of language and a tracing of personality.

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Brief Reflection on a Line from a Hymn

At morning prayer a line from the suggested hymn stuck out in my mind and caused some rumination with respect to where we stand with Godl.

The particular line is:

"God's way is my way..."

I think all too often we think this line the other way round. "My way is God's way." That is certainly more convenient, as we do not have to alter our current orbits to adjust to such annoyances as the dictates of charity, the Great Commission, or other such things as might get in the way of leading a "normal" life in Millsian Materialist America.

But the truth is, regardless of what is convenient, we should be able to speak the line as written. We should be able to say very humbly, "God's way is my way, by His grace and through His power." Otherwise Christianity is meaningless and Christ's sacrifice is moot. Our center needs to be outside ourselves. We are not self-contained solar systems but rather planets that orbit around a glorious Son.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Spiritual Direction and Reading category from July 2003.

Spiritual Direction and Reading: June 2003 is the previous archive.

Spiritual Direction and Reading: August 2003 is the next archive.

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